One Night in Wenzhou


A Botswana, a Chinese, an Ethiopian, two Indians, a South African and a Zimbabwean walk into a bar.

Technically, a nightclub, POP – Wenzhou hotspot. Its’ lights spill out onto Oujiang Road and lend much needed sparkle to the muddy, dirty Ou River, which would be better renamed the “Ew” river.

As with the bridges that branch out from Oujiang to the other half of Wenzhou across the Ew, tonight’s group of clubbers is here in their capacity as connectors – the Chinese connects the South African and the Zimbabwean with the two Indians, the two Indians connect the South African and the Zimbabwean with India, the Botswana connects the South African and the Zimbabwean with the Ethiopian, and the South African and the Zimbabwean connect the Botswana and the Ethiopian with the Chinese, and possibly the two Indians too, though they only met them earlier that day.

With so much crisscrossing of lines, it’s a surprise that the conversation does not start to flow immediately. The thundering bass of the club music does not help matters. Not to mention the militarily rigid, grim, and precise table-attendants and manager who never cease to hover around our table. That seems to be the style overall, a handful of attendants per table, sometimes outnumbering the patrons.

Smiles and seduction are in scarce evidence for a place that is clearly working overtime to exude a hot club vibe. Not counting the cheerless staff, the same blindness to one another’s painstakingly positioned sexiness, which afflicts the youth elsewhere in the city, is in effect on the clubbers as well. Conservative as a society may be, here, in a place specifically designed for the purpose, is where all form and custom should go out the window, where young peoples should check each other out freely, grind up on each other, and get into petty jealousies to their heart’s content. Hell, bring on a fight or two while you’re at it.

Regardless,  “When in Rome…” and all that. Only when I see pairs of girls and pairs of guys, late into the night, writhing against each other in a drunken state that only they can get into with the ridiculously watered down whiskey-cokes that are the staples of every table do I realize that, travel as many thousands of miles as you want, some things just stay the same in societies that haven’t quite figured out what to do with modernity yet.

Walk into almost any habesha club – not a barely disguised whorehouse, mind you – and you’ll see the same phenomenon. Guys and girls all dressed to the nines, apparently for each other’s benefit and all of them considered attractive by local standards, who can only rub up against their own sex when it comes right down to it, when the clock hands have crept past the midnight mark and the clutter on the bar counters and tables clearly shows that all present are liquored to the brim.

No danger of sexual energy invading our little United Nations table, either, though the atmosphere among them has loosened up a bit, thanks to some general get-to-know-you chitchat and a combined effort among some of them to get the manager to smile, and the one cheery staff – the woman peddling tacky plastic hearts and giant stuffed animals – to quit shoving her garish merchandise in our faces and move on already.

Of amusements there are plenty, if you are enough on the outside to notice them.

The bone-rattling soundtrack of plastic cups holding several dice being shaken and slammed down every few seconds on tables all around, in a drinking game ubiquitous to all bars, the point of which is lost on anyone who loses no love for numbers or is capable of interacting with people without said plastic excuse, is one such curiosity.

The cleaning lady who attacks the smallest speck of anything that lands on the floor within seconds of its appearance with her broom and dust mop is another.

As are the aforementioned table attendants who monitor the table with equal intensity, relighting candles within moments of their petering out, removing any loose tissue with their tongs and refilling the whiskey-coke decanter religiously with the precise proportion of 2 parts whiskey and three cans Coke.

The ballad-crooner and bad-boy hard-rocker who alternately belt out English and Chinese tunes into the rhinestone mike from the variously placed stages are amusing in their respective affectations, as are the put-upon kitty cat posturings of the girl dancers and lip-singers.

Play that Funky Music, White Boy, as sung by a fleshy Chinese punk, priceless. What can only be called an “interpretation” of Shania Twain, rendered by a bleach-haired Chinese songstress whose micro-mini does its’ best to reveal as much of here spare behind as possible, equally so.

A random Chinese girl pops over to our table, freely helps herself to our disappointing cocktail, nuts and popcorn, and enjoys herself dancing with most of us in turn. Her exact origin is unknown, as is her exact intention. She’s harmless enough, entertaining, and thinks the fleshy Chinese punk is big, muscular and handsome. All a matter of perspective.

Eventually, one of the two Indians and the Botswana resort to the dice game. The Zimbabwean is toasted and acting the fool, exercising his global White privilege. The other Indian has yet to utter a word or demonstrate his ability to assume a second facial expression. The Ethiopian and South African engage in on-again, off-again conversation. Clearly the alchemy isn’t there this night, but it’s been pleasant enough. Architecture is tricky when you’re dealing with one bridge, let alone half a dozen.

As all stories do, this too must end. And so, creeping up on 3am, a Botswana, a Chinese, an Ethiopian, two Indians, a South African and a Zimbabwean walk into a McDonalds…

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